(This is an ancillary post to a three-part blog entry about real estate ownership in Panama and through Isla Palenque’s vacation homes. For the first two sections, see Real Estate Ownership I: Isla Palenque and Real Estate Ownership II: Panama Primer.)
I personally don’t see the reason to go through complicated legal structures in Panama for the ownership of a simple vacation home, but you shouldn’t take my word for it and should talk to an attorney before deciding what is best for you. However, one word of advice: if you are contemplating a legal entity, make sure that you check not just with legal counsel in Panama, but in your home country as well.
For example, when purchasing Isla Palenque, my Panamanian attorneys suggested an SA (Sociedad Anonima, or “Anonymous Society,” roughly similar to a corporation in the US). These entities have been suggested for years (maybe decades) to US purchasers, and they are still suggesting them. However, if you intend to ever sell your property and bring the capital gains back to the US, you will find a problem: since SAs are anonymous, the US doesn’t consider any taxes paid by those companies to be creditable against US taxes. This creates a situation of double taxation, which nobody wants (well, maybe the governments don’t mind, but no investor wants it).
There is at least one easy way around this, which is a company called an SdeRL (Socieded de Responsibildad Limitada, or “Limited Responsibility Society,” roughly equivalent to an LLC in the US), a corporate form adopted in Panama a few decades ago. Since these entities are more transparent than an SA, the US will consider taxes they have paid as creditable against US taxes. Seeing as Amble’s investors intend to return their capital to the US (and since Amble has nothing to hide by doing business anonymously), it was important for us to choose such a legal structure for conducting business in Panama.
While SdeRLs are becoming a little more common in Panama recently, they still aren’t the “go to” company form, and a Panamanian attorney who is not familiar with US tax code – and why should they be? – may recommend an SA instead of an SdeRL.
So, again, obtain your own legal advice before purchasing your island home, but if you choose to purchase through some legal entity, be careful of the choice you make and be aware of implications both in Panama and your home country.